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Winter reminds us that safety must be embraced as a core value

Ptld Tribune

Ptld Tribune headshotWith the colder-than-average winter weather across Oregon in the last month, safety has been a major concern for most of us in the construction industry — both employees and employers.

Many companies talk about the importance of safety, and most companies have embedded strong safety performance as a core corporate value.

While it is easy to use the words “safety” and “culture” in the same sentence, working every hour of every day to ensure a real safety culture is work that never ends.

Why does safety matter? When employees leave their workplace in good health and under safe conditions, workers’ compensation and insurance costs are reduced. Simultaneously, productivity improves when employees know they are performing in a safe environment under the supervision of caring management, and the outside community benefits by knowing that the employer values safety.

The employer’s commitment to having a safe workplace is communicated to their employees, their employees’ families and the community. The positive perceptions created about the value of workplace safety and health can yield many positive outcomes for bid opportunities and new partnerships within the industry. Perhaps most importantly, a company’s strong safety culture can improve efforts to recruit and retain the construction workforce of the future.

Another way to look at the importance of safety requires us to strip it of morality and, instead, monetize high-level safety performance. When that is done, it can be easier to see a marked difference in the workplace.

Safety can be monetized both directly and indirectly. Direct safety costs are costs from an accident, such as the medical bills of an injured worker or broken equipment that requires repair. Indirect safety costs are the peripheral costs associated with an accident, such as increased insurance costs and the need to find a substitute worker while the injured worker recovers.

Overall, members of leadership and management within our industry are not in the safety business — they are in the business of construction and making a profit. Traditionally, people associate profit in the workplace with a specific product or successful marketing plan, but profit can also be associated with safety performance.

Having a well-oiled safety program translates into improved performance among employees. These concepts can, in turn, migrate to other departments within the company and improve productivity, efficiency and even employee satisfaction.

At the government level, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA) sets minimum safety standards for companies to follow. If these standards are not met, penalties are assessed and the offending companies must pay. As these citations stack up, insurance rates increase and cost the company more, directly affecting the company’s bottom line.

Failing to regularly hold safety committee and safety meetings are typically at or near OR-OSHA’s top violations, even though the safety committee rule has been in place for nearly two decades. Following close behind, fall protection violations, including failure to protect against injury near holes, wall openings, ladders and rooftops, were also in the top violations and accounted for the most frequent source of violations on the list.

As we look to build the construction industry of the future, it is important to recognize that while safety standards have improved, additional changes are needed to further improve safety performance. Within the industry, it has become apparent that the participation of companies in safety awards programs results in a reduction of safety-related accidents as well as increased employee morale and improvement in overall business.

Evidence of safety awards can and should be added to bids, and are, in fact, now required on Army Corps of Engineers projects. When this information is prominently included, it can help companies with higher safety standards win the bidding process over another company. The Associated General Contractors of America’s Construction Safety Excellence Awards (CSEA) is an example of one that can be added to the bid.

Change is difficult. Many companies find it difficult to change the paradigm of prioritizing workplace safety standards over the bottom line. As our industry moves forward in stronger, but still lean economic times, there is a new opportunity to refocus on the value of safety and instilling the culture of safety within a company.

For those companies looking to actively participate and engage in a safety dialogue, AGC and Northwest Utility Contractors Association (NWUCA) Joint Safety Forum on Feb. 24, 2017 will provide attendees the opportunity to affect change within their companies and allow for active participation in the construction industry of the future.

We hope that your company will join us, for the sake of the bottom line, and — most importantly — for the sake of your employees.

Mike Salsgiver is executive director of the Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia Chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or:

This article originally appeared in the Business Tribune and can be viewed here.

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